Michael Crichton, in his novel Prey, introduced us to nanobots, which consumed living creatures and utilized the breakdown products to create more nanobots.1 The concept of nanomachines is not pure science fiction. Some primitive nanomachines have already been manufactured. Many types of nanoparticles and nanomaterials are already being used in commercial products and potential medical applications are being introduced at a rapid pace.

So, just what is the significance of the nanoscale? What do we mean by nanometer? nanoscale? nanoscience? nanotechnology? The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering in the United Kingdom point out the following facts:2

  • Nanometer (nm) - one thousand millionths of a meter. For example:

    • A single human hair is about 80,000 nm wide.

    • A red blood cell is 7,000 nm wide.

    • A water molecule is approximately 0.3 nm wide.

  • Nanoscale - the size range from 100 nm down to 0.2 nm.

  • Nanoscience - the study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular, and macromolecular scales, where properties of materials can be very different from those of larger scales.

  • Nanotechnology - the design, characterization, production and application of structures, devices, and systems by controlling shape and size at the nanometer scale.

On December 29, 1959 Dr. Richard F. Feynman addressed the American Physical Society. His presentation was titled "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom."3 In his presentation he discussed "manipulating and controlling things on a small scale." He had identified the concept of nanotechnology. He speculated that we could manipulate "…the very atoms, all the way down!" That vision has become a reality and the possibility of developing nanomachines is very much alive in that some primitive molecular nanomachines have been fabricated. Self-replicating machines have not been fabricated and are not likely in the short term.

K. Eric Drexler, in his 1986 book, Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, gave further life to the idea of being able to produce nanomachines for everything from machines that produced needed products to thinking machines and revolutionary medical applications. He also warned that replicating assemblers and thinking machines could pose great threats.4 The possibilities have been further elaborated in hundreds of articles (keep in mind that all are not peer-reviewed) available to anyone with time to sit down and search the Internet. Some of the general ideas of Drexler have been further elaborated with a focus on business applications and opportunities presented by nanotechnology in a book by Jack Uldrich and Deb Newberry, The Next Big Thing is Really Small - How Nanotechnology Will Change the Future of Your Business.5

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